More than $500k awarded to Biotech seniors

Magnet program encouraging knowledge-based workforce in STEM discipline

Biotechnology Magnet Academy at Southwood High School graduating seniors earned $500,208 in scholarships this year to pursue higher education.

Twelve of the 16 graduates plan to attend four-year institutions, three plan to attend two-year colleges and one is enrolling in the U.S. Navy.

Biotechnology Magnet Academy – or Biotech Academy – is a magnet program within Southwood High School in Shreveport formed in 2006 by Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF), Southwood High School, Caddo Parish schools, LSU Health Shreveport, LSU Shreveport and participating biotech companies to expose students as freshmen to a rigorous curriculum in biotechnology.

The program was formed to promote an educated workforce skilled in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discipline, necessary for maintaining and attracting new industry to Northwest Louisiana.

“Along with developing a knowledge-based workforce, the program, which includes academic counseling, laboratory internships and four years of advanced curriculum, Biotech Academy ensures demographics like female students, minorities and students who are first-generation college-bound have an avenue to pursue STEM and then later go on to pursue it in their college careers,” said Cathy Williamson, Biotech College Navigator.

As navigator, Williamson dedicates her time to preparing each of the four grades, starting with freshmen, for their post-secondary work, to include college application and ACT preparation.

“We investigate each student’s strengths and look for the best college program that fits them. We start them on the ACT when they are sophomores and later guide them in filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA),” Williamson said.

Other aspects of the program include BioStart Laboratory Research, which provides academy seniors a semester-long medical research experience in a laboratory at LSU Health Shreveport guided by faculty mentors; and BioStart Boot Camp, a summer research boot camp to prepare students for the senior lab experience.

The average award for the senior graduating class of 2016 was $31,263. Awards included institution awarded tuition, grants, government assistance and civic scholarships.

“This program contains incredibly talented students, students who many times are first generation college students. One of my students is the first high school graduate in her family. We’re reaching kids that would otherwise not have the opportunity to be successful. That’s the beauty of this program,” Williamson said.
Enrollment at Biotech Academy increases each academic year. Seventy three students applied during the program’s open enrollment in March.

“Biotech Academy is a wonderful asset to this community and Caddo Schools. It’s no surprise our classes increase each year. We’re recruiting at middle schools around the parish each year looking for that student who wants to pursue their academics in STEM,” said Jeff Roberts, Southwood High School Principal.

Biotech Academy is open to all students finishing eighth grade in Caddo Parish.

Visit to learn more about Biotech Academy and BRF’s other education initiatives.

For Biotech Academy application information, visit